Rethink your digital marketing before it’s too late

Four trends that you should react to this year


The crystal ball season is in full swing. In between wrapping up old projects and planning for the new year, marketers are reading article after article trying to scope out the latest trends for 2014.

Unfortunately, the only thing that sticks are buzzwords such as ‘native advertising’, which most of us speak about without having an idea what they stand for. And yet, it is crucial to identify long term developments and their implications on your marketing strategy.

So, let’s have a deeper look on some of the most exciting trends that you can expect and how brands and agencies can profit from those opportunities

From native advertising to contextual advertising

‘Native advertising’ has been 2013’s number one buzzword at marketing panels, conferences, and on social networks. Essentially, the term refers to the digital form of advertorials or, in other words, the advertisements that come in the form of editorial content. However, native ads –also known as branded content– differ by not only adapting the editorial format, but because their content is specifically created to fit the voice of the outlet where they appear.

Leading platforms such as BuzzFeed and The Atlantic have dedicated teams to make sure that your ads become an almost indistinguishable part of their own publications. And those teams cannot grow fast enough: BuzzFeed will see its revenue jump from about $20 million in 2012 to $60 million in 2013, and expects to double it again this year.

“Are your ads looking more like magazine spreads yet?” ~David Ogilvy

The problem is marketers seem to have little understanding of what native advertising actually means. They measure the success of native ads just by looking at the number of shares, likes and comments. Yet, few marketing specialists know how those vanity metrics connect to the brand image or how they translate into actual leads. Considering a price tag of around $92,300 per campaign on BuzzFeed it might make sense for marketers to get a better understanding on that question.

Instead of using successful platforms as a promotion vehicle, you should excite consumers by creating unique content that relates closely to your brand and its values. One good example of this upcoming trend is Patagonia’s antidote to Black Friday. In a 27-minute film, the brand went against consumerism and promoted how garments become part of your experiences and thus develop into indispensable pieces of memory that you wear out rather than throwing them away. While “the company practically begged people not to buy its products on Black Friday,” it would still appreciate if you chose its $700 jacket over spending that money on a competitor’s cheaper product.

Worn Wear by Patagonia

Alternatively, Patagonia could have posted “15 extremely cold but beautiful places” on BuzzFeed but the company seems to understand the importance of putting its products in the context of a powerful piece of content. “Worn Wear” resonated with the brand’s values: long lasting outdoor fashion is worth the price.

While we will see more money to be pumped into native advertising in 2014, you can expect to see the smarter companies moving away from hollow content towards high quality content that epitomizes the brand’s style and core values.

Artists, the better agencies?

Traditionally, brands have put advertising agencies in charge of coming up with smart, unconventional ideas to excite their target demographics. But with the rise of the visual, design driven web this is starting to change. Photographers, artists, designers and food bloggers are becoming the new brand partners.

“We treat our commercial work artistically. If it’s a commercial piece we want to create something people would actually enjoy watching, not just shoving something in your face.”

Through blogging, instagramming and tweeting many independent artists and bloggers have acquired a significant audience that brands find incredibly valuable. Jamie Beck, a New York photographer, whose blog Ann Street Studio and Instagram have become one of the leading sources for photography, fashion and travel, confirms: “More and more our work is for a brand to use on their own channels, rather than just us posting to our audience. It's now a thing we do in tandem - we support the work we create for a brand and show a behind the scenes story, or a deeper ‘directors cut’ of the work we do.”

Beck and her partner Kevin Burg, who built up Ann Street Studio, have repeatedly come up with new visual ideas. Whether we talk about cinemagraphs, still photographs in which a minor and repeated movement occurs, or the Instagram specific “in 15 seconds”-videos, which reflect short visual summaries ranging from fashion shows to city sights.

Paris in 15 Seconds

Beck’s approach to her work shows why brands have to reconsider their marketing approach: “We treat our commercial work artistically. If it's a commercial piece we want to create something people would actually enjoy watching, not just shoving something in your face.”

In 2013, Ann Street Studio created campaigns for a variety of clients, reaching from Rachel Roy to Chopard and the Lincoln Motor Company. The video project for Lincoln commercial illustrates how and why artists succeed: they have a good sense for their audience. “We created something commercial, which people would come across on their phones amidst photos of their friends and family and we wanted to be very respectful of that and not just slam in a traditional advertisement,” Beck says. Consequently, people on Instagram commented on the 15-second videos as being “magnificent”, “gorgeous”, and “intriguing”, which reflects the value of artistically enhanced content rather than using stock material.

The Lincoln Job by Ann Street Studio

Moving forward, expect to see brands integrating with creators, experimenting with new digital platforms, and taking greater risks to stand out from the crowd.

Big data turns into tangible data

While the importance of data is heard everywhere today, many advertisers and brands are guilty of copying and regurgitating stats without looking at the source and the context. A recent report by Experian QAS found that as many as 94% of organizations suspected that their data system contained flaws, and the average survey participant believed that up to 17% of their company data could be incorrect. 29% of respondents even admitted that they lost customers due to inaccurate data.

Marketers should know better. It’s been a decade after Michael Lewis published Moneyball, where he describes how the Oakland Athletics used carefully chosen statistics to build a winning baseball team on the cheap. The book showed that the traditional yardsticks of success for players and teams are fatally flawed. With the rise of big data in marketing we can see similar tendencies. Most companies stick with vanity metrics, such as number of fans and likes. And those who do go out and try to create original data sets often fail between badly placed cookies and outdated email lists.

Rod Bodkin of Think Big Analytics calls it “the big data Wild West.” The common thread is that many companies have little concept of which data to search for, and especially what to do with it. Going forward, enterprises will have to change their approach and hire specialized staff to create meaningful experiments for what they want to analyze and understand.

Foursquare check-ins in Istanbul visualized
“We can start to move beyond vanity metrics.”

For a long time brands only analyzed the top level data of their performances on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, such as likes, re-tweets and number of comments. Recently, marketers have started to look into more granular data and to understand contexts in between the stats. Consequently, the concept of treating social networks as silos will be followed by a more holistic approach. Smart marketers will begin to understand how the shares on Pinterest could lead them to the product that they should cross-promote on Facebook. “We can start to move beyond vanity metrics” says Apu Gupta, the CEO of Curalate, a platform which provides an image analysis for Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram. His clients have advanced from looking at the number of likes and comments to sharing complex social data within the organization and applying the insights to their strategy.

"The problem of social is that we have been focusing on analyzing campaigns," Gupta states. “Now, we are moving to a stage where social data drives business decisions." He describes The Grommet, one of his clients, as being a good example for this trend. The platform, which sells innovative, undiscovered products, has used Curalate to understand what collections consumers are actually sharing. Through these insights The Grommet has been able to shift from pure reviews, to an approach where social data is used to anticipate trending products or product categories. This helps the company to improve its buying process and reduces the risk that it pushes out new products that don’t sell.

This trend towards tangible data signals another threat for ad agencies. Companies will bring social listening in-house to tie it closely to their business processes, and inform strategic decisions, or, as Gupta formulated it, “we are moving to the social business.”

Chat apps, beyond texting

Until now, chat apps have been misunderstood as texting tools for teenagers, and have largely been ignored by brands.

WeChat, with over 270 million monthly active users, offers users text and video chats, photo/video and location sharing, and group messaging. But as opposed to competitors such as Whatsapp and Snapchat, WeChat also has functions that target brands and marketers such as payment, gaming, and CRM.

Bollywood stars Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan promote WeChat in India

In China where WeChat is most popular, brands such as Louis Vuitton or Southern China Airlines have their CRM synchronized through WeChat and offer live customer service, check-ins, and even ticket booking.

SnapChat, which is more prominent in the U.S., is closely following WeChat’s development and will implement new features that serve brands. Its storytelling function, which lets users create “stories” from their snaps, has already been used by Juicy Couture to preview its Spring campaign. And with $50 million in fresh cash, the pressure on creating tools to monetize the app will rise significantly for the Snapchat team.

Instagram is the latest player to join the team. Shortly after launch of Instagram Direct, Gap used the new direct messaging feature to surprise some of its fans with a limited edition product. The brand’s global director of digital and social media, Rachel Tipograph, says that “It’s going to be a great tool in terms of deepening relationships with customers.” So, despite Instagram being still far from turning into a messaging app, the CRM concept seems to get more important.

Prepare for the social business

Granted, many of the changes will happen much slower than you might expect, but if your brand doesn’t already have a strategy you should get started. Define:

  • How you are going to build out your capabilities to create appealing content in line with your brand
  • How artists can become part of your marketing portfolio, and how you can establish a solid relationship
  • What data you are going to source, and how you share it within your company to drive decisions
  • If you are going to use chat apps as part of your CRM approach

You need to realize that the trend goes beyond campaigns, and towards brands that are present and accessible to their customers. This is one of the reasons why we will see a continuous integration of those marketing structures into organizations, and a closer connection to other departments. Not only because the nature of social requires quick decisions and responses, but also because the social business where conversations immediately influence business decisions is becoming reality.

Just take a look at Rebecca Minkoff and Urban Outfitters. Both brands sell products by using their fans’ Instagram photographs on their websites. The future is less about what companies put out there, and more about looking at what their fans discuss and share and using it for the brands’ strategic decisions.

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This post first appeared on Fueled.com under the title “Four trends that will impact your digital marketing in 2014"